Did you know that bees are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat? Those little pollinators are important! No wonder there is concern about the declining populations and colony collapse of the European Honey Bee. Why not turn to our native Mason Bee for your local solution.
Mason Bees are found naturally all over North America. There are 402 species that live in the United States, but we tend not to notice them because they are dark blue in color and look like large flies. They are not susceptible to the same problems facing honey bees nor do they interfere with honey bees. Mason bees are different than honey bees because they do not have a queen, do not make hives, and do not make honey. Because they do not have these things to protect, they don’t sting and are safe around children and pets.
Mason Bees are excellent pollinators, 120 times more effective than honey bees. Other bees carry most of the pollen they collect back to the hive. Because Mason Bees do not have a hive of all the pollen they collect, it stays with them, plus they are more “scruffy” than honey bees. They have a lot of hair on their bodies and don’t bother to clean it very much, so as they go from flower to flower they pick up lots of pollen and transfer it to more flowers.
Mason Bees emerge in early Spring when temperatures are still cold, long before honey bees become active and when fruit trees begin to bloom. This increased pollination will improve the yield on fruit trees and increase the quantity and quality of blooms on flowering plants and herbs.
Mason Bees are often referred to as “solitary bees” because they do not have a social structure like other bees. The females prefer to find holes in wood or walls that have been made by other insects, cleaning out these holes, to lay their eggs. Starting at the back, she deposits an egg, a little pollen and nectar, and then builds a wall to seal in the egg. This wall building is why they are called “mason” bees. She will repeat this process about 8 to 10 times for each tunnel, covering up the entrance with mud to protect the eggs from other insects and weather, laying 25 to 35 eggs in her one season life time.
The eggs will hatch into larvae and feed on the pollen and nectar while maturing in their little protective cell. They pupate in the cell and emerge from the tunnel as adult Mason Bees. They quickly begin foraging for food and mating with other Mason Bees which starts the process all over again.
Orcon has a Mason Bee nest available for the home gardener, called Plan Bee. When naturally occurring female Mason Bees find the tubes in these habitats, it’s like finding a new condo that doesn’t have to be cleaned out, so they just move right in and start laying eggs for next year’s crop of happy pollinators. Live Blue Orchard Mason Bees, Osmia lignaria, are available as cocoons. Shipped January thru March they can be stored in the refrigerator at 32 to 35 degrees for several months. Set them out in a nest before the buds begin to swell in the spring to cultivate your own pollinating colony.
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